Tirzah live in Bristol review: a confounding experiment gone right

tirzah releases surprise album trip9love...???

Given the trajectory of her career to date and the enigmatic way in which she has always expressed herself, the nature of Tirzah delivering something as a surprise isn’t really all that surprising anymore.

In a par for the course move, her latest album, trip9love…??? came out at the start of September without any prior announcement or teasing of singles, and delivered a somewhat confounding listen.

Opting to take her experimentalism to the next level by stripping back production to its most bare and placing significant limitations on what elements or ideas could be present within a song, the album highlights Tirzah and producer Mica Levi’s inventiveness and dedication to creating challenging music. While this made for a thought-provoking listen on record though, it was anyone’s guess as to how it might translate to the live setting of Bristol’s Strange Brew.

In typically obtuse fashion, there is little to no fanfare for the support act. Visuals are projected onto a wall behind a DJ as they play a set that teetered hesitantly between ambient and deconstructed club, never revealing much about itself or drawing too much attention as it takes place in a corner away from the main stage. This allows for the room to fill and for anticipation to swell, with the lights being dimmed long before anyone takes to the stage.

Notorious for her preference to keep a low profile and remain unaffected, Tirzah finally enters the fray deep into the evening cloaked in a dense fog, opening the set as her new record does with ‘F22’. A track based around a sparse piano motif that is soon accompanied by a hard-hitting trap beat, it quickly becomes apparent to those expecting songs from Devotion or Colourgrade that those wishes won’t be heeded to, and that this would be the continued theme throughout the set.

With the repetition of ideas being such a key element – ie. the same beat only altered slightly from one song to the next – there comes a point where many in the audience began to ask whether things were beginning to grate on them or if they were really beginning to get into the feel of things.

Despite the lack of variation, each time a particular motif or pattern returns it almost feels comforting, as though returning back on course after a slight detour. There are many who have committed to restrictive briefs for the entirety of a record in the past, such as Matmos’ all-99-bpm-triple-album The Consuming Flame, and this latest release from Tirzah feels like it belongs alongside it as an exercise in testing the limitations of what the artist has to work with. 

Being the capital-A ‘Artist’ that Tirzah is, it’s simple enough for her to pull off, though it’s not always plain sailing keeping the audience on board. As the set works its way sequentially through the rest of the album, with some tracks taking the shape of softer ballads before the scatty 808s made their grand return, it’s clear that it didn’t entirely matter if the concept was over the heads of some people, because this set wasn’t for them. If you were willing to jump onto the ride for half an hour and embrace the weirdness, then it was for you.

Only Tirzah could be capable of pulling off a performance that achieves so much of what it aims for by doing so little, and that’s why her approach to creating avant-garde pop continues to stay fresh.

Photo credit: Spike Lynch Koch

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